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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Sepp Kuss celebrates his win during the Tour of Utah final day in Park City on Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018.

PARK CITY — Entering the final stage of the 2018 Tour of Utah, all Sepp Kuss had to do was sit on the wheel of his nearest competitor and nurse his 1-minute, 27-second lead. But after dominating the tour’s climbing stages, Mount Nebo and Snowbird, it has become clear the 23-year-old Team Lotto NL-Jumbo rider is no follower.

Kuss hit the base of Empire Pass 2 minutes, 30 seconds behind EF-Drapac rider Nate Brown. As the kilometers ticked away on a 12.3-kilometer climb categorized "beyond classifiable," Kuss just kept coming. The Colorado native picked off the remnants of the day’s break, then, one-by-one he picked off the climbers. Two kilometers from the summit, Kuss passed Brown and by the summit, he had a 42-second lead on the field. After a tricky descent down the rain-soaked streets into Park City, Kuss claimed his third stage win and the title of Tour of Utah champion with a dominant performance.

“When Jack (Haig) went, he had me on the ropes, so I was just kinda pulling through to keep the pace,” Sepp said. “When I could see Nate up ahead, I thought maybe I could get another stage win.”

The fans were so loud I couldn’t hear anything behind me. I thought if they pass me I won’t even know because it was so loud and I was trying to drive all the way to the line.
Sepp Kuss

As the climbers were suffering up Empire Pass, fans at the finish line in Park City were reveling in a light rain that cooled things off considerably. That rain made things difficult for Kuss, who had never ridden the descent and was not willing to make a mistake with the overall title at stake.

“That descent in the cold rain and my legs locked up,” Kuss said.

What Kuss didn’t know was that Jack Haig and Brent Bookwalter were screaming down the slippery descent in hot pursuit. Kuss churned to the line with BMC’s Bookwalter and Mitchelton-Scott’s Haig just eight seconds behind.

“The fans were so loud I couldn’t hear anything behind me,” Kuss said. “I thought if they pass me I won’t even know because it was so loud and I was trying to drive all the way to the line.”

Kuss’ third stage win vaulted him into a 2-minute, 9-second lead over the second-place finisher, Israel Cycling Academy’s Ben Hermans.

“Yesterday I hurt myself a lot by trying to follow Sepp,” Hermans said. “I just did my own tempo from the bottom to the top.”

Haig, a rider from Australia, said he put in work on the early part of the Empire Pass climb that helped vault him from fifth to third on the tour’s last day, while taking third place for the stage.

Bookwalter put in a ton of work early in the week supporting Tejay Van Garderen. When Van Garderen faltered, Bookwalter set out on his own Saturday.

“I saw how dominant some of the climbers were yesterday, so today the strategy was to keep fighting and never give up,” he said.

Bookwalter said he was gassed at the summit and thought he had nothing left, but he took two deep breaths and attacked the descent into Park City that approached speeds of 115 kilometers per hour.

“I was kind of bummed to miss out on a stage win but really proud to keep fighting,” Bookwalter said.

St. George resident TJ Eisenhart was 16th on Sunday’s stage, 3 minutes, 40 seconds behind Kuss. Overall, the Holowesko Citadel rider finished 20th in the event, 14 minutes, 30 seconds behind Kuss.

At the conclusion of the race and just before the press conference with the cyclists, John Kimball, managing director of the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, announced tentative dates for the 2019 tour.

“It was a great week of racing and you guys battled through the heat and the smoke and even the rain today,” Kimball said. “We are very excited to announce the dates for the 2019 Tour of Utah as Aug. 12-Aug. 18.

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Note: With his impressive win at the 2018 Tour of Utah, Team Lotto NL-Jumbo announced that Kuss will be riding at the Tour of Spain that starts in late August.

Tour of Utah final standings:

  1. Sepp Kuss, Lotto NL-Jumbo
  2. Ben Hermans, Israel Cycling Academy 2:9
  3. Jack Haig, Mitchelton-Scott 2:21
  4. Brent Bookwalter, BMC Racing 2:39
  5. Hugh John Carthy, EF-Drapac 2:42
  6. Joe Dombrowski, EF-Drapac 2:58
  7. Keegan Swirbul, Jelly Belly 3:39
  8. Luis Villalobos, Aevolo 3:57
  9. Michael Woods, EF-Drapac 4:38
  10. Peter Stetina, Trek Segafredo 5:50